Almost sixteen years ago, I authored a workbook focused on efficient use of microcomputer tools for audit, review and compilation engagements. At that time many accounting firms considered automated engagement tools "on the cutting edge" and while adoption of these tools was growing, usage was by no means widespread. As these products evolved and became more mature, firms began to embrace and deploy trial balance software for preparing financial statements and tax returns from the client's general ledger information. But this software was only the beginning. To better optimize engagement efficiency and productivity, engagement systems evolved to provided workflow tools for workpaper management; standardizing repetitive engagement tasks and facilitating staff corroboration.
Like what you see? Click here to sign up for Accounting Today's daily newsletter to get the latest news and behind the scenes commentary you won't find anywhere else.
Today, I can't think of any accounting firm that doesn't use at least one of the many applications designed to create trial balances and/or automate workpaper preparation and improve engagement efficiency. There are so many applications from which to choose, the issue is no longer one of adoption but rather proper selection.
Unfortunately, many firms still underutilize the workflow capabilities that these various solutions provide. Trial balance software is an effective starting place for converting a client's general ledger information into firm (compilation, review or audit) issued financial statements and tax returns (as opposed to write-up software which is oriented to the needs of the client). But so much more can be accomplished by also implementing engagement software to manage the many steps of the engagement process by providing workpaper standardization, staff collaboration and document management.
Engagement software accomplishes this by providing cradle-to-grave workflow elements for managing all tasks. These begin with the initial setup and preparation of the workpapers and trial balances. Staff then "check out" workpapers for performing procedures. These in-process documents are then forwarded to others for review and comment. Once completed, the documents will become the source for financial reporting and tax integration. After finalization, wrap up procedures and electronic storage takes place. Finally, roll-forward procedures prepare the engagement information for the next year.
When evaluating the different solutions, first consider their integration with other products your already own within the vendor's suite of applications. Many of these applications share information with financial and tax products that elimination of redundant data entry is a major benefit. Most also provide features which recreate standard information for reuse on multiple engagements. Trial balance software should offer multiple ways to group and filter account data for creating necessary financial reports and tax schedules. For the engagement management solutions, focus on the efficiency of the workflow processes that automate document management, from the initial creation of the document to its final approved status. Integration to and from Microsoft Excel and Word and other vendors' applications is also important to achieve ultimate productivity. Custom screens, reports and data fields allow personalization for staff and firm needs.
This article reviews both engagement software solutions that incorporate trial balance functionality and also independent trial balance solutions that integrate with engagement management solutions. While many firms may be content just using trial balance software without engagement management, to truly achieve engagement efficiency and effectiveness-as the last line of the song classic "Love and Marriage" states-you really can't have one without the other.
Engagement CS provides engagement workflow and interfaces with the standalone trial balance and other applications in the CS professional suite of products to provide a well-rounded solution for financial statement and tax preparation engagements. It also includes complete integration with PPC Smart e-Practice Aids for automating audit planning and risk assessment.
The major menu items and their respective tasks are easily accessible. "File" allows adding of new documents, engagements and clients, viewing of notes and workpapers, and rollforward, backup and restore procedures. The edit menu functions include copying and pasting documents, workpaper sign off, opening documents in Microsoft Word or Excel, adding or editing review notes, refreshing or undoing the checkout status of engagement documents and finding a specific engagement document. Tasks provide access to the trial balance, adding or viewing journal entries, checking out or reviewing engagement documents, engagement wrap up and access to documents from the PPC references library. Setup creates the chart of accounts, account groups, grouping schedules, tickmarks, balance definitions, cash flow worksheets and user preferences
During the setup of an engagement, the engagement properties dialog box and a new engagement wizard displays specific engagement information. You can assign specific staff and sign off types, assign workpapers and documents to staff members working on the engagement and view all current engagement activity. Documents provide the ability to customize Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and scan images directly into the engagement workpapers. Workpaper properties display information pertaining to a specific workpaper, including the name and reference. You can also specify roll forward treatment of a workpaper, track sign offs. and view history. Template clients and engagements provide default chart of accounts, account groups, grouping schedules and financial statements, facilitating efficient engagement setup.
Staff members can open the trial balance view and create or edit journal entries. They also have access to chart of accounts, groups and schedules. They can create groupings, assign tickmarks and workpaper references. Reviewers can add notes to the trial balance to reference specific workpapers. Users can also access Microsoft Word and Excel workpapers from within the engagement software and insert formulas, workpaper links, staff names, dates, tickmarks and sign offs. Notes can be inserted on individual workpapers for subsequent response, clearing and reviewing. The wrap-up wizard allows you to clear or delete review notes and finalize engagement documents and workpapers. Roll forward then prepares the engagement for the subsequent year's procedures.
Sharing of common documents among different staff members enables efficient workflow. Using the multi-staff feature, individual staff members initially work with master client data. They then check out documents containing sections of the engagement, complete their work and check in the updated documents to merge with the master engagement documents. Once the engagement is finalized, it can be stored in the FileCabinet CS product.
Printing allows sorting of selected workpapers by reference, name, staff, notes, preparer sign off and reviewer sign off. Reports include the adjusting journal entry report, trial balance worksheet and tax code report. Financial statements use trial balance groupings but can be changed to meet engagement-specific reporting needs. Custom statements can include user-defined financial notes and comments and can also be created using Microsoft Word and Excel. You can drill down to the detail for any amount in the financial statement and define XBRL taxonomy groups and tag items for writing to electronic files.
Trial Balance CS
Trial Balance CS is the standalone trial balance companion product that interfaces with Engagement CS. Its main features include import of client information, financial statement preparation, tax return groupings and report printing.
New clients can be created by using one of the provided standard charts, copying a chart from an existing client of similar setup or importing from an external source. The split-screen interface displays both the trial balance summary and effect of the detail journal entries. Account groupings are combined for financial statement and tax return purposes. You can store up to 10 years of account information. The Autofill feature completes standard information, reducing unnecessary keystrokes. The trial balance grid is user definable. Users can also add electronic tick marks and workpaper references to the trial balance.
Trial balance CS has numerous standard reports and templates for creating financial statements. Reports can be customized for client-specific reporting needs and can be copied between clients to enable standardized formats. Trial Balance CS integrates with other CS products and can transfer information to other tax applications as well as Microsoft Word and Excel.
CaseWare Working Papers
CaseWare offers a complete engagement workpaper and trial balance product with numerous features that facilitate creating a paperless workflow environment. These features includes a full-featured trial balance, financial statements, engagement workflow, workpaper creation and integration with other CaseWare applications.
Trial balance setup includes import choices for text and spreadsheets. Account mappings for lead schedules, tax lines and ratio components can be standardized and reused to improve setup efficiency. Financial statement reporting occurs through the included report writer and also by integrating with Microsoft Excel and Word. An add-on product, CaseWare Financials, provides industry standard reporting templates that expedite report format and design. You can also generate XBRL-enabled documents and financial statements.